Why do Steelhead roll?

JACKspASS

Active Member
Based on my own experiences of steelhead rolling in coastal waters and inland waters, it seems like steelhead just like to show off at times. The inland rivers are famous for large over wintering pools with steelhead that receive alot of pressure, and in these areas it is common to see them roll every few hours, these, being mostly kegged up, stagnant hatchery fish. I have also seen this with low water kegged up coastal summer runs. For as often as the stagnant, dormant water fish roll, it is about as often as they bite.....infrequently.

I love working my way down a run when a fish breaks water in the tailout, the anticipation is great
 

Yard Sale

Huge Member
I once read a steelhead document by a man named Berine Pringle. He theorized that they roll due to the fact that after pushing against the current they get tired so they take a break. During that break the current pushes them up off the bottom. The roll is them righting themselves and starting the cycle of fighting the current again. Google Bernie Pringle steelhead. Read the document he wrote. It has pictures and explains how steelhead react on a primal level. This helped me understand them soooooo much better. After reading it I started to catch them. Just my $0.02
I tried to find this but couldn’t. Can you provide a link?
 

Snagly

New Member
How does a steelhead know what the surface of the water represents other than a plane/barrier/something different that (a) changes appearance a lot (based on weather/light); and (b) supplies a disproportionate amount of 'interesting' things (bugs, leaves, floats, flies) that instinct suggests that they sample?

I'm not certain that jumping fish know they're leaving the water behind. I think they're "jumping" when they're 10' down as well, but we can't/don't see the result as they're still 7' underwater at the apex of the upward power move. Do the same thing again starting from one-foot-down, and we get a two-foot-high jump. That's cool, but I doubt the fish is thinking about getting airborne beforehand.

So that rolling fish that's not feeding? He or she probably does that move all the time, but 90% of the instances go unnoticed because they occur in water >3'-deep.

* * * * *

When I saw the topic, I thought the question pertained to the steelhead "death roll" when they're below your feet and twirling. That always causes an "Oh, sh#t!" feeling because the hook pulls frequently unless you can change the angle by charging downsteam and putting side pressure on your prize.
 

jasmillo

Active Member
WFF Supporter
My guess is because of all the techno music being blasted out of the rafts of our millennial bro steelhead guides.
 

Nick Clayton

Well-Known Member
WFF Supporter
How does a steelhead know what the surface of the water represents other than a plane/barrier/something different that (a) changes appearance a lot (based on weather/light); and (b) supplies a disproportionate amount of 'interesting' things (bugs, leaves, floats, flies) that instinct suggests that they sample?

I'm not certain that jumping fish know they're leaving the water behind. I think they're "jumping" when they're 10' down as well, but we can't/don't see the result as they're still 7' underwater at the apex of the upward power move. Do the same thing again starting from one-foot-down, and we get a two-foot-high jump. That's cool, but I doubt the fish is thinking about getting airborne beforehand.

So that rolling fish that's not feeding? He or she probably does that move all the time, but 90% of the instances go unnoticed because they occur in water >3'-deep.

* * * * *

When I saw the topic, I thought the question pertained to the steelhead "death roll" when they're below your feet and twirling. That always causes an "Oh, sh#t!" feeling because the hook pulls frequently unless you can change the angle by charging downsteam and putting side pressure on your prize.


I was just having this conversation with a fellow board member out on the sound the other day. We were discussing resident coho jumping and why and I mentioned that thought. Maybe they dont know they are jumping. Maybe they are just cruising all over the water column, doing their thing, and suddenly their trajectory takes them out of the water. They could likely be as shocked as we are when it happens.
 

NRC

Active Member
WFF Supporter
I was just having this conversation with a fellow board member out on the sound the other day. We were discussing resident coho jumping and why and I mentioned that thought. Maybe they dont know they are jumping. Maybe they are just cruising all over the water column, doing their thing, and suddenly their trajectory takes them out of the water. They could likely be as shocked as we are when it happens.
I do wonder if “sipping” behavior counts against this hypothesis, though, as it seems to indicate an awareness of where the surface is. Plus I have to think there’s an evolutionary pressure to be aware of exactly where the surface is given that a bad hombre might swoop down and grab them when they’re near it. Still, interesting and kind of amusing to think of those leaps as an “oh s***!” type of accident!
 

Dave Maddock

Active Member
Another anecdotal piece, excluding summer fish, it seems like the few winter fish I've seen roll were in the tailout, not sure if I've seen a winter run roll in the head of a hole or in the gut, always mid tailout to extreme end, which leads me to believe they are fresh arrivals. Never seen one roll in high water either, always lower water situations.
I've seen them roll in high more than low,
right up close to the bank. Often really close to my position as if they sense me and were just double checking.
I have only caught one roller on the next cast. It was a kelt brat out on the OP.
 

KerryS

Ignored Member
WFF Supporter
I was just having this conversation with a fellow board member out on the sound the other day. We were discussing resident coho jumping and why and I mentioned that thought. Maybe they dont know they are jumping. Maybe they are just cruising all over the water column, doing their thing, and suddenly their trajectory takes them out of the water. They could likely be as shocked as we are when it happens.
Like a bird flying into a window. Blam! WTF!
 

Flytie09!!

Active Member
This from an interview of Lee Spencer who for the past 20 years has been caretaker over the wild steelhead at the Big Bend pool on Steamboat Creek...a tributary of the famed North Umpqua. In addition to being on the lookout for poachers.....he has made note of steelhead behavior, kept a daily journal and wrote a book about these unique observations.

Marshall: You determined that what they’re really doing when they’re jumping is looking around, which is amazing.

Lee: Yes. Yeah, it is. The fact of the matter was, again, I watched these things for two or three years before I started even getting inklings, you know. My observations were … sometimes I’d come up for reasons for things in the first year or two that turned out to be just idiotic later on, but the jumping thing was fairly clear. Number one, I see probably over 2,000 jumps from steelhead a year, and in only two cases have I seen a steelhead jump with his mouth open. So their mouths are closed when they jump. They’re looking at a particular direction. In my second year, I started making notes not only on fish jumping, but which way they were facing. It turned out that by the end of the season, I had enough data to show that in about 30 percent of the cases—just estimating there blindly—but in about what seems like 30 percent of the cases, the beaver, otters, person, dog, you name it, was coming from the direction that the steelhead was facing when it jumped. Sometimes they face the bank, sometimes they face upstream, sometimes they face downstream, or in angles of those. There is, as far as I’m concerned—I’m as sure as I can be of anything—that jumping is primarily for the purpose of getting their heads above the water and to be able to see outside.

I’m not going to dwell on this but your listeners might want to look something up, it’s called “Snell’s Window.” Just look that up in Wikipedia or something else and you’ll find something that applies directly to why steelhead jump if they want to see something outside the water.


We'll never be certain what they are doing when they roll, rise or jump....but I tend to believe they are curious and in many cases it is simply a response to this. It is an interesting thought for sure.
 

Shad

Active Member
I don't think anyone's mentioned how current water and weather conditions might factor in. What made me think of it was others sharing the experience that the rollers they see tend to be kegged-up (dour) fish or kelts. I will amend my previous thoughts (that rollers tend to be movers/biters) to factor in conditions.

If the river is high (and preferably but not necessarily dropping) and you see rollers, hang on, because that's likely to mean hot movers. If it's low and clear, you're likely seeing the kegged-up, well-seasoned variety or kelts. If it's kelts, you'll probably get bit. They can be very aggressive, probably due to the warmer spring water as much as anything else.
 

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